Every child matters: Orange Shirt Day

By Greg Duck Posted: October 1, 2019 8:00 a.m.

A smudging ceremony and round dance took place at First Nations University to honour Orange Shirt Day.
A smudging ceremony and round dance took place at First Nations University to honour Orange Shirt Day. Photos: University Advancement and Communications

A wave of orange flooded University campus on Monday.

Now an annual event every September 30, Orange Shirt Day recognizes the shared history of our country and the need to work intentionally towards the full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's 94 calls to action. The date was selected as it is close to the time of year when children would typically be taken away from their families to residential schools, as well as helping to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year.

Orange Shirt Day began back in 2013 in Williams Lake, BC as a way to honour the healing journey of Residential School survivors and their families and commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation. The colour orange was chosen to commemorate the orange shirt that event founder Phyllis Webstad's was forced to remove when she was taken from her family and forced to live in a Residential School.

Now celebrated throughout our nation - and around the world - the event creates meaningful discussion about the legacy of Residential Schools and underscores the fact that every child matters. We must support those who endured this hardship and ensure that no one is ever be stripped from their family, forced to reject their language and culture, and be made to feel less than ever again.

The University of Regina's involvement with Orange Shirt Day has continued to grow each year, with an entire day of programming being offered with opportunities to explore Indigenous culture and to hear the stories of residential school survivors. Leading up to the Day, more than 800 University staff and faculty committed to wear orange shirts on September 30.

A prayer and panel discussion kicked-off the day, with President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Vianne Timmons moderating a panel featuring Elder-in-Residence Lorna Standingready BAdmin'00, Lifespeaker-in-Residence Dennis Omeasoo, and lecturer Chris McKee. Each had the opportunity to tell their story and offer their personal insight on how we can continue respond to the TRC's calls to action.

"The University is a wonderful place. We have to continue to educate each other as we go down this path of reconciliation," said Standingready.

Nicole Willows, a third-year student in the Faculty of Education, attended the panel discussion to hear the firsthand accounts of the residential school experience.

"My professor had told us about the event, and when I heard that we could learn from people who had actually experienced life in a residential school, I had to come. As a future educator, I think it is very important to learn to create meaningful change," said Willows.

Later in the day, an honouring round dance and smudging ceremony at the First Nations University of Canada offers an opportunity to offer prayers, as well as share stories of residential schools and hope for the future.

Saskatchewan was home to the largest number of residential schools in Canada, with Gordon School being the last to close in 1996. With an Indigenous population expected to become the majority by 2030, and an increasing international population, the University of Regina has a responsibility to spread awareness of the past.

Executive Lead, Indigenization Kallie Wood offered her support of the event, and the University's continued efforts to support reconciliation efforts.

"As an institution, the University of Regina has an important role in helping to recognize the history of the land it resides in. All faculty, staff, and students need to play a role in reconciliation. We need to take a proactive approach to move the University forward in a good way," said Wood.

The day was capped off by a student-led event in the U of R's Fifth Parallel Gallery to honour the history and lasting impact of residential schools and to consider how to move forward toward reconciliation.

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Office of Indigenization

Aboriginal Student Centre